Making Stress Mechanics Fun?

Discussion in 'Game Design, Development And Publishing' started by Yal, Dec 20, 2019.

  1. Yal

    Yal GMC Memer GMC Elder

    Jun 20, 2016
    So I'm making plans for that massive cyberpunk detective-noir RPG I've been planning for years (which I'll hopefully actually start making one day - currently I'm thinking about waiting for the 2.3 stable release) and I've started thinking about stress mechanics... what they'd add, or rather if they add anything to the game.

    The idea is that you get stressed out working, so you need to do fun stuff (visit hot springs, watch movies with friends in the cinema, etc) regularly to unwind or you'll start taking a toll to your mental health. The ways that would affect the character is hitherto undecided, and I'm not sure the effects of prolonged stress is the main focus of the game. At the same time, since the game will be about eldritch horror, I feel like it's pretty natural to work in a bunch of stress and mental health mechanics in some way, because everyone does that with the H.P. Lovecraft source material.

    I'm mostly wondering, what could those mechanics contribute, other than an annoyance the player has to deal with? Darkest Dungeon (which is what gave me the idea in the first place) has a pretty major side-effect of the stress mechanics being that you can't use the same characters all the time, forcing you to improvise with whoever's available that week and trying out all classes. However, it stops being an issue late-game when you can have close to three dozen party members.

    My main two design ideas for the project is to simulate an entire city (using a bunch of procedural design to help lift the load, and there's going to be a lot of strings attached behind the scenes) and make every character feel alive and personal, and having non-work activities like watching movies and just hanging out helps add to both of those ideas (like having places you'd expect to see in a city actually function, and being able to do stuff with characters to learn more about them)... I have this vague feeling that having a gameplay reason to do these off-time activities instead of just chewing through missions sequentially (which probably is what the player is there for) would promote them actually seeing all the cutscenes I made for them, but does it add anything?

    If you have any ideas for how to make a fun (as in, adds to the gameplay depth) simulation of stress and slowly going mad, that's appreciated as well! I liked many parts of Darkest Dungeon, but I always felt that stress mostly equaling "random bad RNG will happen more often" was a bit lame, especially when there were chain-reactions where your entire party died of heart attacks. I kinda like the idea of having stress allow you to perform past your limits, but relying too much on that boost will lead to disastrous effects eventually (that's how I react to stress myself so I've got plenty of experience with it, including a year-long depression caused by working myself to the bone in 2016).
    Phil Strahl likes this.
  2. Rob

    Rob Member

    Jul 12, 2016
    Maybe if there were risk/reward involved in letting your character get stressed out that might make it worth while to players. Maybe they find things / unlock things by visiting the fun places / maybe they're able to visit some strange levels via their nightmares if they're stressed enough.

    I think I would pick either "places to go for fun to unlock new stuff" or "push stress levels as far as you can go to unlock new stuff/areas whilst also suffering debuffs"
    Yal likes this.
  3. HeWhoShallNotBeNamed

    HeWhoShallNotBeNamed Member

    Nov 9, 2018
    I think stress mechanics could definitely be used to make the player care more about the characters, and having things to do between missions could not only be stress relief for the characters in your game but provide a breather for players as well. I have a few thoughts on the subject. Most of them assume your game has a party/multiple player characters, but even if not, hopefully they could be a springboard for something.

    • It could help make characters distinct if they deal with stress differently. Certain things that stress out certain people may not bother other people. For example, if two of your characters are surrounded by enemies, one may remain cool under pressure, while the other may panic.
    • Likewise, different characters may try to relieve stress differently. You might lower one character's stress level by going to a movie, but another character may want to deal with stress in a more direct way, and every second they're not out there fighting creatures/investigating crimes actually raises their stress level.
    • If your detective work involves interrogating suspects, perhaps your character's stress level effects what dialogue options are available/effective. Maybe a witness is more intimidated when being questioned by a detective that seems a little worse for wear mentally.
    • Perhaps a character whose stress level is too high starts seeing/interacting with things that aren't there. Or, and I think this may be a good fit with the horror theme, they start seeing things that are there, just invisible to characters that are more mentally stable.
    • I like the risk/reward tradeoff of unlocking new abilities for highly stressed characters, seeing how far you can push a character before they break. Wondering what that means about you as a person. Reminds me a little of how Limit Breaks worked in Final Fantasy VIII.
    • Even though I haven't played it yet, from what I've heard about This War of Mine, you should probably look into how it handles stress mechanics and how characters deal with the stress of what happens to them and the characters close to them, as well as the stress of dealing with what they themselves are forced to do.
    Yal likes this.
  4. Yal

    Yal GMC Memer GMC Elder

    Jun 20, 2016
    This sounds so obvious in retrospect (given some of the story beats I've planned out highlighting things like this), thanks for pointing it out! Having things like fear of crowds, fear of undead / eldritch, fear of the dark, fear of cramped spaces (etc) all affect characters differently in gameplay as well as in story cutscenes seems like a really cool side dish on the main gameplay... forcing you to think on your feet when the optimal solution gets messed up by the character's limitations.

    Another good idea! Lots of dating sims has this mechanic where you need to figure out what gifts a character likes based off of their personality (or so I'm told *whistles*), this would map really well to pastimes as well. Making sure not to drag a shy introvert to a large convention and stress them out further, trying to act like you're comfortable in a traditional tea ceremony or a black metal concert to maximize your teammate's stress recovery, being able to use alcohol to basically get free stress recovery but also debuffs that can linger for days before they wear off...

    I like this idea as well! Interrogation isn't the main focus of the game (the policework is mostly a framing device to get the main cast to get into RPG battles with criminals and demons all the time) but I'm envisioning some system where you have "professionalism" and "bad cop" meters (which influences related actions) and get bonuses to one of them and penalties to the other based on stress levels. Maybe also a system where you have a chance to fail an action and accidentally do the opposite version if you're in the wrong mental state, so even if you try to act professional you'll snap if you're too stressed out, and if you're too mentally stable everyone will see through your attempts at intimidating.

    This is another awesome suggestion! It could fit perfectly as a way to weave a bunch of things into the story... introducing the horrors gradually as well as reveal a bunch of things about the protagonists' mental state. Later on in the game you'd get a bunch of scanners (akin to the different visor upgrades in Metroid Prime) which can reveal invisible things (an infrared visor lets you reveal undead people trying to act normal, for instance, and an x-ray visor lets you see which lootable containers contain items and can reveal illusory walls and invisible objects), but having so high stress that you can see through illusions and "I have a bad feeling about this" when there's something worth scanning around could feel like a convenient bonus to encourage being at the verge of insanity when exploring.

    I like the idea of making being stressed out award more rewards - after all, you grow more if you leave your comfort zone and push your limits a bit. Perhaps being at high stress level increases EXP (and skill points, and all other things that get better when you use them repeatedly), but if you have a breakdown, you'll get a penalty instead.. which isn't lifted until you're fully recovered mentally. So players are rewarded if they play risky with stress, but they have a reason to start being careful when they're getting close to the limit.
  5. Master Maker

    Master Maker Member

    Dec 11, 2016
    I have an interesting idea: Breakdowns cause hallucinations, interesting side effects. Things like hearing weird sounds, or seeing the lamp float when it isn't, or something like that.
    devKathy likes this.
  6. devKathy

    devKathy Member

    Dec 31, 2019
    They say physical activity is supposed to help out with stress/depression. Those three things are linked for me, to be sure. I guess what I'm saying is, if I were a character in this game, physical activity would help with the stress, whereas coffee would help with productivity, but make me more stressed. Especially double shot espresso! xP

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